During this unprecedented global pandemic, many couples and families find themselves spending more time than usual cooped up at home with one another. Stress is high for many reasons, including worries about health and financial security, let alone simply finding enough toilet paper at the grocery store or carving out a few minutes of alone time for self-care. Now, more than ever, it’s important that couples treat each other with kindness and compassion. But how, when it’s so easy to let the stress of this extraordinary time cause us to lash out or retreat inward instead?
Enter Safe Conversations, a workshop that empowers couples to talk without criticism, listen without judgement and connect beyond their differences. These workshops are ongoing, and couples can register for an upcoming online workshop or an in-person event later in the year. They can also take advantage of free daily emails with tips for connecting with one another during this time of worldwide health and economic concerns due to COVID-19. Churches that are interested in marriage workshops should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What, exactly, is a Safe Conversations workshop?
The workshop was developed by husband-and-wife psychologists Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt with cutting-edge neuroscience. During a workshop, couples can expect to learn how to remove negativity and anxiety from their relationships and nurture safety and affirmation. This, in turn, leads to true connection.
Some of the tactics participants may learn include using “I” language instead of “you” language to avoid blaming the other; repeating what the other says in a conversation to ensure mutual understanding; and affirming the other by simply acknowledging that what they said made sense. Each workshop includes seminars led by certified teachers, time to practice newly learned skills and a guide to take home after the workshop is complete.
A Couple’s Perspective on Marriage
All Saints Dallas (ASD) hosted its first Safe Conversations workshop in January, and its parishioners can attest to its effectiveness and worth.
Tim and Leigh Hudson, members of ASD who have been married for 17 years, attended the workshop, which was hosted by husband-and-wife relational couches Clay and Sonja Arnold. Like all workshop leaders, Clay and Sonja are well-equipped. They have taught relationship classes for over 30 years, and Clay has also served as a pastor.
The workshop provided Tim and Leigh with a safe place for the two of them to reconnect. The couple is not only married, but also works together at an advertisement agency where Tim is the owner and Leigh the accountant. Indeed, they say they complement each other well, with Tim running the creative side of the agency while Leigh takes care of the financials. “We’re business partners and marriage partners,” she says. “And best friends.”
The couple spends a lot of time together, both working and enjoying traveling, watching movies and walking their dogs. Some of the joys they’ve shared throughout their marriage include opening their business in 2005; traveling to Israel, Scotland and Switzerland; Leigh’s kidney donation; and growing in their faith together.
Still, like all couples, they’ve had their challenges: health scares, the difficulty of balancing work life and home life and a remodel to their home that went bad. Tim and Leigh know the health of their own relationship as well as their relationships with others affect the overall health of their marriage.
“Healthy relationships with others bring a freshness to our marriage,” Leigh says. “[They help] keep our marriage from getting too routine and in a rut.”
To this end, the two try to stay especially involved in the life of their church. They’ve made close friends through Alpha, a series of sessions that explore the Christian faith, and through their pastorate (ASD’s small group communities). All the while, their marriage has evolved.
“We are all on the journey together, and it’s been very fulfilling walking with others who are on the same journey,” Leigh explains.
The tight-knit Hudsons say they benefited from the Safe Conversations workshop hosted at All Saints Dallas. “I was able to understand certain behaviors in myself and in Tim that had not been revealed until the retreat,” Leigh says. “It helped me understand myself and Tim a little better.”
Their favorite part? The one-minute hug.
“We get so busy that our affection for one another takes a back seat,” says Tim. “Embracing for one minute can bring back the safety and bond that sometimes gets lost.”
Tips for Right Now
For couples feeling the stressful effects of the coronavirus, Dr. Harville and Dr. Helen have a list of five tips for healthy relationships during this time. In fact, these tips are geared not only toward couples, but toward all relationships under stress right now. Friends. Roommates. Parents. All can benefit from the insight of Dr. Harville and Dr. Helen.
The five tips for relationships in the midst of the coronavirus:
- Honor time by asking, “Is now a good time to talk about … ?”
- Allow boundaries by letting people say, “Now is not good.” Ask when is better.
- Show curiosity by asking, “Is there more about that?”
- Express empathy by saying, “I can imagine you might be feeling …”
- Show appreciation by simply saying, “Something I appreciate about you is …”
Couple can also plan to participate in one of the many upcoming Safe Conversations workshops available. Or, if that’s not possible, Tim and Leigh simply suggest giving the one-minute hug a try. “It feels really nice!” they both agree.